Libraries Hold Their Breath and Await the Budget

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll find out why five newly renovated branch libraries in New York City have yet to reopen. We’ll also hear what Mayor Eric Adams said in defending a nominee who worked for Rudolph Giuliani when he was mayor.

And, repeating what I explained here yesterday, New York Today is focusing on what’s going on in New York this week — aside from the trial of former President Donald Trump. We’ll summarize those developments in our Latest New York News section, and you can also sign up to receive our Trump on Trial newsletter.

Anthony Marx dreams of going to the Bronx to reopen the Hunts Point Library on Southern Boulevard.

The 95-year-old library building, the last of 39 built with money from the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, has been renovated as part of a $160 million project to freshen five branch libraries around the city.

But Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, has yet to schedule a ribbon-cutting ceremony at any of the five. The reason: Mayor Eric Adams’s preliminary budget called for cutting $25.5 million for the New York Public Library and its 92-branch system — including salary money for the librarians and other staff members who would operate the five branches.

“It would be tragic not to open them,” Marx said. “They’re spectacular, they’re in neighborhoods that are desperate for them to come back, and we are desperate to do it.” But the libraries needs some degree of certainty that City Hall would not slash library funding again, once they are reopened, he said. The mayor’s preliminary budget also called for cutting $32.8 million from the city’s two other library systems, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Public Library.

Whether City Hall has worked out a way to reinstate the money will become clearer today, when Mayor Adams releases his executive budget, an updated spending proposal that reflects feedback from the City Council about the preliminary budget. Now Adams and Council leaders will negotiate a budget agreement, due by July 1.

Marx called the $25.5 million proposed reduction “a true body blow,” coming after two earlier rounds of cuts announced by Adams to offset the unexpected cost of managing the migrant crisis. One round, announced in November, prompted Marx and officials from the two other library systems to cancel Sunday hours.

In January the mayor said that libraries would not be subject to additional rounds of belt-tightening in the current fiscal year. But the funding that was taken away in November was not restored, so the libraries have remained closed on Sundays.

That messaging, Marx said, had led to confusion. “People think there’s no problem,” he said. “That’s clearly not the case. We’re still closed on Sunday.”

Marx said the system he runs had survived the pandemic with no layoffs, largely by transferring staff members to libraries where positions were vacant. “They are super proud of what they do,” Marx said, “but they are easily demoralized by the response to their efforts and historic levels of cuts. They worry about their jobs, and I say we will do everything to protect their jobs.”

“They know that I am true to that commitment,” he said, “but it will depend on the resources we have.”

Marx said that the proposed reductions would cover 200 staff positions across the system, including about 50 for the five branches. The cutbacks would also mean “significant reductions” in the system’s ability to buy books and other materials that library patrons could use or check out, creating “holes in our collections that we may never be able to fill,” he said.

The money worries of the library system reflect its unusual hybrid status. The city funds the system, but the rest of its $400 million annual budget — not quite 40 percent, library officials said — comes from private sources.

Marx said that the renovations at the five libraries had been paid for with $100 million from the city’s capital budget — which is separate from the executive budget that Adams will announce today — and $60 million from the library’s own budget and City Council funding. “We picked five Carnegie libraries in some of the poorest neighborhoods, did an absolutely top renovation, made them spectacular,” Marx said.

Library officials say that the five buildings had deteriorated. The Melrose branch in the Bronx was in such bad shape that staff members had to set out buckets on rainy days. And the Allerton branch in the Bronx closed for almost two months last fall because of problems with the heating system.

Two other branches, the one at Fort Washington and the one on 125th Street, both in Manhattan, were in three-story buildings that did not have elevators.

They do now, Marx said.


Weather

Expect a chance of showers followed by sunshine with temperatures in the high 60s. For tonight expect a clear night with the temperatures in the high 30s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

Suspended today (Passover).


Mayor Eric Adams is defending his decision to nominate Randy Mastro, a former aide to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as the city’s corporation counsel — the top lawyer representing the city, its agencies and the mayor in civil litigation.

But the expected nomination appears headed for a showdown in the City Council. A majority of the 51-member body, which must confirm a nominee, opposes Mastro; left-leaning Council members criticize his ties to Giuliani. On Tuesday, 34 members of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus released a statement outlining their opposition and urging Adams to reconsider.

He has praised Mastro, calling his career “impressive,” and said that he was the “conscience” of the Giuliani administration.

The mayor also argued that criticizing Mastro because of his clients was unfair. They include Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, in the investigation of lane closings at the George Washington Bridge; the State of New Jersey in a lawsuit against the federal government over New York City’s congestion pricing plan; and Chevron over pollution in the Ecuadorean rain forest.

Adams’s expected nomination of Mastro comes at a time when the mayor and his top aides are facing a tangle of investigations and lawsuits on the way to Adams’s re-election campaign next year.


METROPOLITAN diary

Dear Diary:

I was working in a basement. It was the first time I had worked there, and I wanted to impress the people I was working for.

It was a Friday, and I had lost track of time. I went upstairs to see what time it was, and there was no one around.

#Libraries #Hold #Breath #Await #Budget

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